Escaping the Bonds of Erasable Bond

February 18, 2010 at 10:31 pm (My College Papers) (, , , , , , )

Seeing my old papers from my college Shakespeare classes got me thinking about how the process of writing has changed immensely for me over the years.  Here was my process in college (in the mid- to late 1980s): I took notes and wrote drafts longhand. Then I re-wrote a final draft… again in longhand. I then pulled my trusty mechanical typewriter (that I bought for about $10 at a yard sale) out of the closet and I typed out my final version on erasable bond paper. I could not stand typing on any other kind of paper. Expensive, but worth it when I was typing a long paper at 3 or 4 AM, running on coffee fumes and making plenty of typos along the way!

My senior year, I switched to typing out the final version at the computer lab on campus into some kind of early word processing program. I think it was WordStar maybe? I remember having to get the program floppy (actually bendable!) disks from someone at the computer lab and boot them up (is that the term?) on the old computers with the glowing green screens. The software was not on them! I had to do that each time, and then type in my final version and print it on the dot matrix printer.

The technology didn’t change my writing process. I still made notes and wrote drafts longhand and just drove over to the computer lab with my handwritten final draft ready to type up. I could now print out multiple copies instead of going to the library to photocopy a typed version (which I never did anyway). But  honestly, I don’t remember ever taking the floppy disks back to the computer lab to print out multiple copies of my papers… so other than having that unused capability, there really was little difference to me.

Now that I think about it, I wasted time and burned some gas driving over to the computer lab instead of just pulling the old typewriter out of the closet. I must have felt there was some value added to using the computer, but it’s not evident to me as I think about it now. I may have made some last minute edits, but I don’t think that was a big part of my computing back then.

I continued with that (inefficient) process for a year or so into my first job after college. I still wrote everything out longhand. That’s how the thoughts came out of my brain onto paper… via my pen.

 About a year into that job, I finally changed my writing process (I think I got a computer all to myself at my desk, so it was easier to make the switch) and I started writing notes and making drafts and edits directly into the word processing program (we used WordPerfect).

For me, it was a very big change in mental process that I remember being very aware of at the time. I was uneasy with the switch for a while… I felt like I’d lose my train of thought or have difficulty bringing coherence to my drafts if I lost copies of my previous drafts for reference (as they changed instantly on the computer). There was a real feeling of discomfort for me. A Change with a capital C.

Now, of course, I can’t imagine writing anything longhand. I can barely read my own writing and I get writers’ cramp from writing a couple thank you notes! There’s no way I could sit and write and re-write drafts of multi-page papers.

But beyond the mechanics, what interests me is the mental process that is so different for me. I now find writing directly onto a computer a natural and fluid process. I feel like I think more clearly with the words flowing directly brain to fingers. It’s much faster than longhand and I have more of a chance to get my thoughts out as they occur. I think.

That loss of control, the inability to reference drafts that disappear as they are edited… that bothered me for a while, but I hardly think about it anymore. I love writing on a computer and find it so simple to edit and change things around with no fuss. I feel that my writing must be much better than it would be if I were using longhand.

Does anyone know what I’m talking about? I feel like it’s a subtle idea that I may not be describing well, but it’s been an interesting thing to me over the years—this change in the thinking/writing process. I’d love to hear if others have experienced this.

On a happy note… my big box o’ books came today! I will be reading Shakespeare this weekend!

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6 Comments

  1. Ted Leach said,

    I hear you… although my experience is a bit different. The last time anyone tried to teach me to write longhand was in sixth grade. Mr. Pullen — who wasn’t even my teacher — made it his personal mission. After about a week, he called my father and said, “Get him a typewriter.” I grew up with computers — worked on Apple II – type machines in middle school. Composing on computer has always been natural to me. But it’s only in recent years that I’ve added good old-fashioned pen and paper to my weaponry. There are times when, for initial drafting, it seems to do a better job. I still do most of my writing directly on the computer, but there are times when the tried-and-true technology of pen and paper work well for me.

    As far as the thinking – writing process changing, I agree with you. It’s very difficult to teach a traditional linear writing process to students who don’t think in a linear manner. Plus I know that when I write, I don’t always follow the prewrite-draft-revise-edit structure perfectly. Granted there’s a place for structure, but things are changing…

    • orwhatyouwill said,

      My son’s second grade teacher was worried about his messy printing last fall and gave me a bunch of tracing pages for him to do over winter break. You should see his dad’s handwriting, and besides, they’ll all be working on computers in a couple years. And do any 8 year old boys have neat printing? I mean, he’s messy, but I can read it. It’s not that bad usually (except when he tries erasing things and crossing out and writing over them… it can get dicey then).

      Anyway…as to the writing process… it is definitely not linear now. I start more with a final version in mind and work it around and around til it’s done… it’s definitely not really “drafts” in the way it was when I was writing longhand. Whew. And what a mess that all was for me with the ink smeared all over due to my left-handedness.

  2. Fairy Funny « Or What You Will said,

    […] probably the minimum requirement (I bet there was a required word count and since this was typed on a typewriter… I bet I actually counted the […]

  3. mark mathosian said,

    my experiences with writing and word processing is similar to yours. I remember having to use carbon paper to make copies and use white-out to fix errors. As a professional writer I can’t imagine life without Word. While I used to write my notes long hand, I don’t like doing it because my handwriting stinks. today I avoid writing note longhand whenever possible. regarding work notes and the editing process, I transfer all of my notes to a work file I simply call NOTES for Artice whatever, then I open a new doc and copy those notes over to the draft article. I edit the new doc, not the notes file. that way I can always refer back to my notes if I deleted something. this works for me.

    Mark

    • mark mathosian said,

      Sorry for the messy type above. Wrote my comments on an Ipad and got a little sloppy, leaving off a few letters and caps.

    • orwhatyouwill said,

      Thanks for your comments. I feel like anything I write longhand is wasting time now. I don’t own a laptop (or iPad!) so if I’m waiting for kids or whatever, I am sometimes reading through articles, etc. If I were at a computer, I’d be taking notes (into a notes file like you mention), but if I’m not near a computer, I just highlight and tag with little post-its and go back later to make notes in my computer. I resist any handwriting! It’s so funny to me.

      So, I use a notes file like you, and that’s where I keep record of references, etc. I leave it as is, like you do.

      What I lose in this process, I think (or what I was trying to describe) are the various drafts a sentence or paragraph might go through. As I’m writing, as I’m editing…. I change things and move things in the main document, and sometimes I will just delete whole paragraphs (that made sense to me when I wrote them, but that I no longer want, for whatever reason). So those are gone now: poof! In the old days, writing longhand, of course all that would still be on paper and accessible later, if I changed my mind. Just a light cross out in pencil, but still readable and usable.

      Of course, I could use the editing function in Word and keep track of drafts, but I’ve never done that. At my first job out of high school, at a law firm in 1983, we had a very early word processing machine (a computer devoted just to word processing!) and the lawyers were sticklers for us keeping record of every draft of every document. We’d have, I dunno, 10-20 dated versions of each document.

      I believe we still did this at jobs I had in the late 1980s… efforts to keep early drafts to refer to. I never make any effort to do that now. If it’s gone, it’s gone.

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